Facebook’s decision to allow employees at its Irish office to work from abroad will have major repercussions for Ireland Inc as many other companies follow suit, a leading employment law solicitor has warned.
The move comes as the tech giant clarified that the remote working option will not be available to all staff at Facebook Ireland, and that plans for its Ballsbridge campus in Dublin had not changed.
Employment law solicitor Richard Grogan told The Irish Times the "floodgates have opened" as a result of Facebook's announcement. Other multinationals are likely to facilitate employees working remotely from other jurisdictions, he said, even though doing so is a "nightmare" from an employment law point of view.
“Ireland has traded for a long time on the back of it being a place where companies needed to be because of the talent but the pandemic has shown that this isn’t the case and Facebook’s decision reinforces that,” said Mr Grogan.
He predicted that tech giant's announcement could have as great as, if not a greater impact on the future of Ireland Inc, than the recent decision by G7 ministers to back a major package of corporate tax reforms.
“This creates significant tax and legal implications and employment lawyers are going to have sleepless nights trying to work out issues such as parental leave and PRSI, which differ from country to country. While multinationals will be in a position to negotiate the many difficulties, this will be a great concern for second tier firms who don’t have the resources,” said Mr Grogan.
Maeve McElwee, director of employer relations at Ibec, said it was aware of a number of companies who were considering allowing employees to work remotely from outside the State.
“We understand what some companies are currently considering is a right to request to work remotely from abroad, limited to certain specific roles and certain jurisdictions – and for some it would be for a limited period of time per year,” she said.
“Tax risks (including both corporate and personal) as well as employment law, GDPR and health and safety issues all come into play. For example, employees living and working abroad may, over time, acquire employment rights in their new location, regardless of what their Irish contract specifies, Ms McElwee added.
Patrick Walshe, a partner at law firm Philip Lee, agreed that there are plenty of issues that companies will have to resolve if they follow in the wake of Facebook.
“It’s potentially a messy area because in a nutshell, if you’re working habitually in another EU country you may be able to get the benefit of their statutory employment law rules and that is definitely something to be taken into account,” he said.
“That said, there’s a fair amount of uniformity in euro-wide employment law to begin with, because so much of our employment law comes from the EU centrally in the first place (all of our equality law, for example, and our rules on working time). So it might not be a significant problem in reality,” Mr Walshe added.
Facebook announced on Wednesday that it would open remote work to all levels of employees once the pandemic is over, with anyone whose role can be done remotely able to request it from next week. Staff who move to a different country will then be subject to local employment laws and taxes, the company said.
It stressed, however, that some functions will have to remain at Facebook’s EMEA headquarters in Dublin.
Workers who move to a lower cost region may see their pay reduced, depending on local market rates, and will be encouraged to go to the office at times to facilitate team building.
The company is developing its Dublin campus on the former AIB Bank Centre. Upon completion, the Ballsbridge complex will be capable of accommodating more than 7,000 workers, making it Facebook’s second-largest campus globally, outsized only by its global headquarters at Menlo Park in California.
More than 60 Facebook teams will eventually be located in Ballsbridge. It will also be home to staff working for its subsidiary applications, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger, and its Oculus virtual reality unit.
“Plans for our campus expansion in Ballsbridge have not changed. While we may amend design to optimise more for collaborative spaces than individual desks, we still anticipate having a vibrant campus in Ballsbridge accommodating our hybrid workforce,” a spokeswoman for Facebook said.